Over the past two decades, medical tourism facilitators have become increasingly important players in the growth of medical tourism. Made up of private agencies and individuals, their role is that of an intermediary between the medical tourist and the healthcare provider.
The role of a medical travel facilitator is centered on ensuring a smooth patient care journey, from facilitating treatment costs, providing key information about the medical travel destination and its healthcare facilities, to handling the travel logistics, including arranging visas, booking flights, arranging accommodation, and booking transportation within the destination. Essentially, medical tourism facilitators are a one-stop shop for everything medical tourism.
To many, becoming a medical tourism facilitator may seem like a relatively simple affair. Put up a nice website, attract potential clients and identify a group of hospitals and clinics you can refer them to. In reality, becoming a successful medical tourism facilitator is much more complicated than it seems at first glance. A good medical travel facilitator must be an advocate for their client’s best interests, which requires a nuanced understanding of both travel and available healthcare options. Nevertheless, the perceived low barrier to entry has allowed for the rapid growth of facilitator companies – sometimes at the expense of quantity over quality.
Lack of regulation in the industry
It is important to underscore that most medical tourism facilitators are genuinely trying their best to facilitate a safe and high-quality patient experience – and some are providing excellent services. For many patients, the medical tourism facilitator is the main motivator or reason why they choose a specific destination provider. So we should never minimize the important role facilitators play in the patient decision-making process. However, medical tourism facilitation is an unregulated industry; therefore, it is not always easy for patients to distinguish between a facilitator with experience and high-quality partnerships versus another that has a beautiful website but little experience – or worse, is not focused on the patient’s best interests.
For example, there have been instances of facilitators making empty promises about a five-star treatment and a smooth care journey only for patients to get to their destination without a place to stay and be left with the hassle of booking accommodation at the last minute. More alarming, patients may even find that the healthcare provider they traveled to was far below the expected quality in terms of trained professionals, facilities, and ease of communication. This is not surprising considering that most facilitators receive a commission for every patient referral and hence may be tempted to refer patients to healthcare and dental providers that offer the highest fee, regardless of the quality of care provided to the patient.
Evolving Patient Expectations
These issues will persist as long as medical travel facilitation remains a largely unregulated industry. However, the tide may be changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has reset the medical travel landscape and patient expectations for seeking care abroad. After losing family, friends, and loved ones; postponing non-emergency care, and facing travel restrictions, people had a rethink about their health and to whom they should entrust it. Patients now expect more and will not easily entrust their medical travel decisions or plans to the hands of any medical tourism facilitator unless they meet certain standards.
Building Patient Trust
How does a medical travel facilitator demonstrate to this large pool of medical tourists that they have the experience, protocols, and professionalism to deliver a safe and high-quality medical travel experience? How can you as a facilitator build trust with patients who may only know you by the information on your website?
Certification by an impartial recognized third party can help to build that trust. Without a third-party validation that substantiates a facilitator’s claim of delivering excellent service, it may be difficult for patients—and even healthcare providers—to distinguish between the good facilitators and the ones who place more priority on profits and less on the patient experience.
Expect in the future an increasing number of patients to look for accreditation or certification as the determinant in selecting a medical travel agent. Certification assures patients that a facilitator has been vetted by a globally recognized third-party accreditor, affirming that the facilitator has the required protocols, processes, and staff training to deliver a safe and high-quality treatment journey and experience.
Moreover, certification demonstrates to prospective patients that a facilitator has done its due diligence assessing and reviewing the services of the healthcare provider to ensure they are the best fit for the patient. Importantly, it also helps healthcare providers to identify facilitator partners who they feel confident are committed to supporting a high-quality patient experience.
Medical Travel Facilitator Certification
Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) has recently launched the GHA Medical Travel Facilitator Certification to raise the bar in the industry and ensure that patients get the best quality care when seeking treatment abroad. The Certification evaluates a facilitator across 15 key competencies, including business ethics, staff training and competency, client services, oversight of contracts and agreements, and risk management, which underline their capacity to deliver excellent services.
For medical travel facilitators – even the very best ones, the benefits of obtaining the GHA certification are enormous and are hinged on demonstrating competence in handling patients’ medical travel decisions and logistics. Some of these include providing a strong framework for sound business practices and increasing your sustainability in an increasingly competitive market. Further, the certification helps you mitigate risks and vulnerabilities for clients and for your business, as well as improve your brand visibility.
Certification has become one of the key differentiators in the post-pandemic medical travel space, and more healthcare providers and medical tourism businesses are investing in achieving these globally recognized third-party validations to improve internal protocols and stand out from the competition. This is a win-win for patients and prospective clients, who now have a way to clearly distinguish medical travel facilitators that have gone the extra mile to ensure they have a safe and top-quality patient care journey.
To begin the Certification process or learn more, click here.